Rebooting brand strategy for a digital age – Part 1

This is the first of two posts sharing highlights from our 10th annual research project: "Rebooting brand strategy for a digital age". Here, we address two fundamental questions. First, what is the importance of brand strategy in a world transformed by digital and social channels? Second, how does brand positioning needs to evolve to be fit for purpose in a digital age?

A clear brand strategy remains key for success …

The enduring importance of brand strategy in today's digital age was confirmed, with almost all our marketing directors (91%) agreeing that the key to effective digital marketing was a clear brand positioning. Even though the routes to the consumer have changed dramatically in recent years, the fundamentals of brand strategy remain vital for success. “If you really start from your brand vision to make choices, results can be incredible,” observed one marketing director.

… but brand strategy gets overlooked

New channels have opened up exciting new ways to engage with the ever more connected consumer. However, a focus on new digital channels means that brand strategy “often gets overlooked” according to 60%+ of those surveyed. “For many people digital is the lifeboat of marketing thinking,” observed one marketing director. Professor Mark Ritson went even further in a recent column, saying "In the last few years, marketing seems to be devolving into a tactical pursuit, devoid of strategic thinking.”

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Social media usage is still about following trends

There remains a need for more rigorous and data-based use of social media. “Keeping up with latest trends” remains the main driver of social media usage, four years after our study “Can Social Media Show you the Money?” (62% today vs. 60% in our 2012 survey). Marginally more companies are basing social media usage on “Tangible evidence” (23% vs. 19%), but they remain in the minority.

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Brand strategy needs rebooting

Having confirmed that a clear brand strategy is key to effective marketing in the digital world, how does brand vision and positioning need to evolve? The majority of our survey (85%) suggest change is needed, but most (62%) recommend fine-tuning rather than radical change. We call this “rebooting brand strategy”. The top priorities from the study are i. deeper insight into culture and life, ii. creating a more purposeful positioning and iii. bringing positioning to life in a simpler, more visual way as the basis for an inspiring creative brief.

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In conclusion, brand strategy remains important in today's digital age but needs rebooting to remain relevant. In the next post we will look in more detail about how to reboot brand strategy, brought to life with brand examples. 

About the research

The research was carried out via a global quantitative survey of over 100 senior marketing professionals, covering a range of different sectors. We also did in-depth interviews with 20 marketing directors, from companies including Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and Costa Coffee.